Quantum Mechanics and Why You Should Care
I’m going to make this understandable for everyone without going into the deeper physics, because this is stuff everyone should know and be able to appreciate about the universe.
When things get really small, a phenomenon called superposition occurs. All you need to know about this thing called superposition is that an object (you, an atom, an electron) can’t be described neatly with precise values. Instead, all the quantities something can have, be it energy, position, velocity, etc, take on many values simultaneously. The way to think about this is to imagine the position of a particle, let’s use a proton, as a cloud. Closer to the middle of the cloud is really dark, and as you look further away from the center (in any direction), it grows less dense. The cloud never really entirely disappears, but there’s still a finite amount of cloud out there (It’s a weird idea so just go with it if you need to). The cloud is a probability map of all the positions the proton is currently in. It’s easy to see if we zoom out how we can mistake the cloud for a point. But we’ve looked closer and careful experimentation has revealed this startling fact about nature.
Now this is where it gets good. When we ask the proton where it is, it gives us a single value – NOT a cloud. The most popular interpretation of this event is that during the act of measurement, we “collapse” the cloud and turn it into a point. The fancy name for this is wavefunction collapse. BUT – there’s a counter-hypothesis, which says that when we interact with the proton and ask where it is, instead of the proton’s cloud collapsing to a point, we expand from a point to a cloud ourselves! In other words, there’s a you for every corresponding position in the cloud the proton could have had. You can see how the wavefunction collapse people conclude that it’s the proton’s cloud that has collapsed to a point, rather than your point expanding to a cloud. It’s the problem of consciousness and experience – we can only experience one outcome, which makes it impossible to tell what’s actually happening.
But let’s talk about why this is important for you. We said proton’s can be a cloud. And so can you, once you interact with the proton. Well, it turns out the entire universe is a cloud! There’s no reason to suppose you can’t simply apply the previous situation to more complex situations. Consider the cloud-you interacting with your friend and sharing the position you found the proton at. Your friend becomes a cloud, and so it goes on! The universe is a cloud, and a widely variable cloud at that. Interactions between particles happen so frequently it’s reasonable to suppose that other portions of the universe’s cloud can be entirely different – you may not exist at all! When cloud’s interact with other clouds and become larger, the variability magnifies until this phenomenon called superposition affects things even at our macro-level of life.
And that’s why you should care about quantum mechanics. It’s not just about the quantum level of things, it operates at our level too. You simply live at a single point in the Universe’s cloud. Your reality is not the only reality.
Note to people who actually know quantum mechanics:
Bah I love these theories, so so much. Thanks!
There are some obvious problems to keep in mind when considering the Copenhagen interpretation:
1) Its application to macroscopic objects (lol)
In other words, I’m not the biggest fan.
@tayrex, Awesome post. As much as quantum mechanics interests me, I agree with @dalniente, I never really liked the Copenhagen interpretation either.
@tayrex, Thanks for sharing this! I love the subject of Quantum Physics!
We are the observer of the universe as a whole. We are just awareness – observation.
Everything that is outside of us is a reflection of our inner being – our core beliefs.
All we are is consciousness – and everything else is a projection of consciousness, so therefore everything is consciousness.
So we can say that we are everything , and everything is us.
This can’t be intellectual understood by logic or science. It can only be experienced. No one can prove it to you, only you can experience it yourself. It can be experienced through meditation – moving your awareness from the mind and going deep into being.
@dalniente, @alexishungry, I have a question for you guys. You both said it yourselves, and it’s often cited in quantum mechanics textbooks, that conscious observers change the way things work by collapsing the wavefunction. The thing is, there’s no reason to suppose conscious observers behave any different from a particle like a proton. The point of my original post is to suggest that we enter into entanglement with particles through our interactions with them. Thus, it’s not so much that we change the universe by observing it, but that our observation means that we will consciously experience only one outcome, when in fact all outcomes happen and the many you’s out there experience them all.
This brings up a second point which is my main objection to theories that overemphasize the identity of a person (like spirituality): Since the natural extension of superposition to the macro-level suggests that the universal wavefunction varies dramatically, rather than narrowly, brought on by the magnitude of particle interactions, it makes sense to believe that your identity is only one of many. For example, maybe in 40% of possible universes you exist, in 60% you don’t. And within those 40% you experience only a single outcome. So when you get really deep into spiritual discussions and whatnot, just remember that you are only one of many, and an overly self-absorbed one at that. (As an afterthought, I can see a type of spirituality that acknowledges this still being meaningful)
Now, we’ll never really know if we exist in superposition because of the problem of consciousness and single-experience, but I think it could be possible to one-day perform a macroscopic investigation of quantum mechanics through some ingenious experiment that reveals we do in fact exist in superposition. They’ve done it with buckyballs, currents in a wire, why not us?
@tayrex, I understand what you’re saying, but even if we ourselves collapse our own “wave function” into several different “us”es that observe the particle at different points, there is no way to actually know for sure if that’s what really happens, because we’re only ONE of the “us”es. It’s hard to put what I’m thinking into words. But that’s why I’m a little skeptical about it. Maybe I just don’t understand it as well as you do. Like you were saying, if they’re able to confirm it in an experiment, I’d be excited, but until then, I still feel iffy about it.
@alexishungry, your avatar makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. :)
@qwuakeup, could you be any more vague?
@tayrex, as for the many-worlds interpretation, there is the issue that gravity must behave non-linearly when quantized. I focused on your criticisms of the Copenhagen interpretation; you seem to have at least a decent understanding of both (and the inadequacies of interpretations in general). .
At the macroscopic level, particles observe one another. To anyone reading who may not understand, that causes their wave functions to collapse. The microscopic level is really only “spooky” because we’re not accustomed to it. I haven’t met many well-educated people who take Schrodinger’s thought experiment too seriously. Also, despite the obvious challenges it poses, it could be theoretically possible to entangle a system that large.
@tayrex, Tldr. yes i agree.
@dalniente, Yes. Meditate
“But let’s talk about why this is important for you.” – You really didn’t talk about why this is important for me or why I should care. Sorry.
“The universe is a cloud, and a widely variable cloud at that. Interactions between particles happen so frequently it’s reasonable to suppose that other portions of the universe’s cloud can be entirely different – you may not exist at all!” – ?
“And that’s why you should care about quantum mechanics. It’s not just about the quantum level of things, it operates at our level too. You simply live at a single point in the Universe’s cloud. Your reality is not the only reality.”
“could you be any more vague?”
This is making me care less to be honest. :)
@qwuakeup, “This can’t be intellectual[ly] understood by logic or science” Serotonin? Dopamine? Phenylethylamine?
@beyond, “you may not exist at all!” – reason why it’s important to you
@tayrex, Nice post! Kind of sounds like it was inspired by the concepts of my piece on the post we met on, except it uses more science to back it up and make it more credible. It’s strange and almost humorous how the universe seems to be too lazy to be definite unless it really has to, by being under scrutiny. I really wish I had proper knowledge of these matters, but I won’t be taking a quantum physics course until the next academic year; I’m kinda jealous
btw- I’m starting to put my thoughts on paper for that consciousness thing :)
@snaysler, It’s thought provoking, but nowhere near making sense, thanks.
@snaysler, I’m curious to know how far your math education has come along. There are courses you could try online if you have the time. Lately I’ve been focusing on differential geometry and fun applications of topology, which have also improved my understanding of QM. Although I do appreciate the popularization of science, that has also led to vague “philosophical” interpretations, reliance on layman’s terms, etc.
You may be interested in deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics. Some over-simplify the issue by saying modern physics has completely debunked determinism.
@dalniente, I did some follow-up on “As for the many-worlds interpretation, there is the issue that gravity must behave non-linearly when quantized” and just found out a whole bunch of stuff I never knew. So apparently the Schrodinger equation is just an approximation that breaks down at one end of the spectrum when the true non-linearity reveals itself and becomes non-negligible. Did some reading about the non-linear form of the equation – which is hypothetically the true description of reality, whereas the linear form is just nicer to work with. Very interesting stuff.
The thing I don’t understand is how the non-linearity breaks the Many Worlds Interpretation. I read multiple sources that describe the Many Worlds Interpretation as listing linearity as an assumption, but I’m having a hard time grasping why that is. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the assumption lie at the level of Quantum Mechanics itself, rather than at the level of an interpretation? The interpretation simply states that all outcomes do in fact happen rather than a single outcome. How does this require linearity? If it’s the principles of quantum mechanics that require linearity, and since we found non-linearity, those must be wrong, and thus corresponding interpretations are wrong, then I believe it, but I don’t see it the other way. I’m just questioning because I’m confused not because I think the world is wrong about this or anything. Thanks!
Also I want to add that I think determinism still stands strong (mostly) despite the findings of Quantum Mechanics
@tayrex, there is a problem when people take the many-worlds interpretation too literally. Although it has some appeal, linearity is just assumed, and any kind of collapse postulate is rejected. Max Tegmark, a many-worlds proponent that I do admire, and others do not seem to be very familiar with quantum gravity. Speaking of Tegmark, I’ve posted a paper of his on “quantum decoherence in brain processes” a few times on here when quantum consciousness (silliness) was brought up.
Back on topic…
Work has shown that all gravity is non-linear when quantized. The linear formulation of quantum mechanics depends on a classical spacetime manifold. There are no classical fields in the universe; when considering that, the classical spacetime manifold pretty much bursts into flames. (figuratively) Quantum gravity is non-linear because classical spacetime breaks down at the Planck scale.
That being said, it’s interesting to see how MWI has gained popularity. For example, I also frequent a forum called Less Wrong. I have issues with some of the things in the link below, but you may enjoy it. Overall the site is fun to read.
Edit: do you happen to enjoy the work of Spinoza?
hrmmm, i like what you posted, thank you, very informative, i also understand the need to theorize, as theories are abstract trains of thought that are designed to be molded and built upon, but i wonder how much proof can be demonstrated through quantum theory?
can you enlighten me a little about how the quantum theory is used in a practical way? what i mean is, can you give me some tangible cause/effects that are measurable and observable, when considered from the theory’s context?
here is my concern, humans are limited to what they experience and know, their perspective, most humans only have small working mental models of the world, even highly intelligent ones, and most humans perspectives are clouded by emotion, a false reality,
so when i hear a theory that explains the cosmos, i am concerned, every one of those individuals who champion it are limited to the perspective of this world, all their ideas, all the ideas they built upon throughout history, are also limited to this world, the cause / effect that is observable here,
the universe is unknown, completely unknown, and completely different,
so, can you give me something that takes this theory out of the realm of complex thought and bears some tangibility? i realize your post was not about the universe, this is just the main way i’ve seen quantum theory used
@tine, of course I’d love to
The two questions you seem to be asking are:
Here are your answers my sir:
As a last thought, there actually has been discussion that the laws of physics can change with time and space – the idea being that the way the laws change can be described by some other more fundamental law. This isn’t a popular view in physics, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong – it’s entirely plausible.
2. As to your latter question – how do we know quantum mechanics is correct – once again the answer is that we don’t. This one should be slightly more satisfying than the last though.
First, the point must be made that more than any other scientific model, quantum mechanics is very much a match-with-observation theory. There are many physicists out there that think that although it predicts many things correctly, it may not be the fundamental underlying process; it matches observation, but how do we know there isn’t something else going on we aren’t seeing? In fact I’d claim it’s the single-most doubted theory in all of science given the mountain of evidence we have supporting it.
Which leads us to the evidence discussion. There’s a mountain of evidence behind quantum theory but it all follows the same idea as the following example:
BRINGING IT BACK – your original question has to do with the many-worlds-interpretation of quantum mechanics. How can we talk about the state of the universe as a cloud if we can only experience one part of the cloud? Well, we came up with a mathematical idea. It fit with reality so we kept it. The consequences of the theory predicted something we cannot possibly test. So do you believe it? Don’t believe that it’s true – believe that it’s plausible. Like Feynman said, you can live and not know. It’s possible to live and not know.
@tayrex, Ah another Quantum Mechanics buff who is also a hippie, :)
ballin thread. i always feel as if i don’t know enough to contribute… but then i think “who knows enough?”… then i get lost in my head and i don’t contribute… andddd thats my contribution to the thread haha.
@tayrex i dig your persona.
–which says that every point in space is subject to the same laws as every other point in space.–
what comes to mind is an ant, scurrying about his day, the ant represents us, the ant is limited to its perspective, its accumulation of knowledge and experience, on this particular day, a human comes and crushes half of it’s food scavenging group, the human represents a cosmic force, and this greatly impacts the ant colony’s food supply,
how does the ant understand what just happened? bc all it knows it is limited to its day in, day out simplicity, it does not even know what a human is, let alone the massive object that landed upon his work mates, so how would it piece together the situation?
the only thing it knows is that, somehow, something happened, and bc it is limited in what it can know, no matter how much it applies the logic of what it knows to the situation, it will never be able to comprehend what truly happened,
so i argue how much relevance can be placed on observation based upon cause/effect seen here, there probably are laws to the universe, but they are so massive and beyond our world that to use what we know to understand them is equivalent to the ant using what it knows to understand the human terrorist attack….
to a laymen like me, its seems that to understand the forces of the universe we should start with the most obvious, the macro, the force that holds planets in position, gravity, god’s penile gland, however-it-is-labelled, and perhaps there is that i am unaware of, but an understanding of the cosmos will come from an understanding of the framework that holds it together,
are there any quantum theories on this subject? the micro perspective on the macro
This is NOT a remark on this thread in particular. I’m just so tired of the nonsense I’ve seen on this site and the rest of the internet.
“References to quantum mechanics are particularly popular among peddlers of pseudo-scientific claptrap. Quantum mechanics is widely supposed to make weird claims, and hardly anyone understands it, so if you start spouting references to it in support of your own bizarre teachings, people will assume you must be very clever and probably won’t realize that you are, in fact, just bullshitting. So perhaps, if you’re feeling ambitious, put on another seminar entitled “Positive Attitudinal Energies And Quantum Mechanics”.
- Stephen Law
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